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Physics Tip Sheet #29 - October 23, 2002

Contact: David Harris
American Physical Society

Speed of virus infections correctly predicted by physical models
J. Fort, V. Méndez
To appear in Physical Review Letters

Spreading of viruses happens slower than predicted by past physical models of the process. Many believed this is because biological factors needed to be taken into account. However, a new model shows that physical principles are enough to accurately predict the speed of virus spreading. The model is based on a reaction-diffusion equation, in which the virus "reacts" by reproduction and then "diffuses" by infection. Details of both processes, including the time it takes for a virus to reproduce, are needed to give an accurate model. Similar models have only previously been applied to historical social settings such as the Neolithic transition in Europe and the spread of the Black Plague. This model is the first to give predictions that can be experimentally tested in the laboratory.

Journal article: Available on request

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American Physical Society
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